The other day, a friend of mine — who shall remain nameless — took a picture with Bun-B. I saw it and called him, so excited that he got to meet Bun. When I did an interview with him in advance of Trill in 2005, I would listen to the tape like it was an album. My boy Aden and I, literally, sat in our favorite restaurant and listened. And rewound. And listened. And rewound.
So yeah, I was gassed for my man that he got to meet one of the greatest rappers of all-time. So I called, the excitement evident in my voice. How did he respond?
“Yeah, who was that guy?”
Yeah. So after I picked my face up off the floor and prepared to unleash a lecture like no other, the subject was quickly changed. And not by me.
Who’s Bun-B? He’s one half of UGK, the second greatest rap duo of all-time, for my money. And that duo, over 20 years, never released a tape less than very good. And one of them, Ridin’ Dirty was so good that it might have been the best hip hop album of 1996. Yes, over ATLiens, Reasonable Doubt, Ironman, or anything else you can think of.
Cocaine Blunts did an interview with Bun about Goodie Mob’s Soul Food. Buried there is the impact Goodie had on him, and how it affected UGK’s music.
Did hearing the album make you reconsider your approach to making UGK records?
Lyrically yeah. It taught me that you don’t have to dumb yourself down to make street music. There was no sense in me thinking that anything we were doing was over peoples heads. You just had to know how to communicate it to who you were speaking to. Eventually they would understand.
Truth be told, it didn’t take that long. Like, maybe one time through. This was an instant classic.
It was interesting to hear that spelled out so explicitly. It’s not that it wasn’t clear. As good as Super Tight… was, Ridin’ Dirty was a quantum leap from anything UGK had done, which is saying plenty. Think about it — in the ‘80s, it wasn’t at all uncommon to record a song and it be played out before it even made it onto an album. Groups often scrambled to rush singles to the masses because being hot was so fleeting then. UGK, on the other hand, put out a tape called The Southern Way, featuring production by a then 16-17 year-old Pimp C in 1988. By ‘92, when Jive was ready to release their debut album, lots of that stuff made the cut.
How much stuff do you remember from ‘88 that wasn’t all-the-way-played-out by ‘92? That’s the sort of classic heat UGK has been dropping for, literally, as long as I can remember.
And still, Ridin’ Dirty blew that away.
First there were the beats, probably the best Pimp C did. They were tighter than his older stuff, and the melodies were smoother. But, in a fashion reminiscent of Bob Marley’s post-shooting work, Pimp managed to refine his sound without sacrificing its integrity. He hadn’t gone commercial, but the marriage of catchy, sing-song hooks with hardcore beats became even more beautiful on Ridin’ Dirty. The organ from Super Tight… was harder to find, and a more bluesy, guitar-aided sound emerged. The fat snares reminiscent of the early ‘90s got tighter, too.
And Bun and Pimp were better than ever, as good as anyone else in the game, and firmly entrenched as flag-bearers. For whom? For the South, the Gulf, Texas, the underground, the G’z, independents (the album went gold with no videos)…and anyone who loved organic, genuine rap music. The work before Ridin’ Dirty made UGK a name. Ridin’ Dirty instantly made them legends.
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The first time I heard Ridin’ Dirty, I only needed to hear one track to know the deal. I mean, I’d already heard “One Day.” That was the single all over Houston radio, so that track was promptly skipped when I got the CD. Nope, all I needed to hear was “Murder.”
I won’t describe it because I can’t. Yeah, it’s a sparse loop that may have taken three minutes to do. And sure, Pimp’s verse was cool.
Bun’s verse? Can we agree on top 10 all-time? And no, I’m not exaggerating.
I’d never heard this Bun before. To this point, he was in Pimp’s shadow. Pimp did the beats, and he had that unmistakable voice and audacious charisma. Pimp was the star because he was a star. Bun was the rapper.
Then, after God-knows-how-many bars on “Murder,” he seemed like he may have been the dopest cat I’d ever heard. It was as if someone like Serge Ibaka went home for the summer and returned as Hakeem Olajuwon. Yeah, we saw the talent and thought he was good and would be better. But did you see that coming?
And did you expect that to go on track after track after track? He was like a machine gun on “Murder.” He danced through “Pinky Ring,” with that footwork belying the fact that every single couplet was powerful and perfect. “Fuck My Car,” the indefensible misogyny notwithstanding, is about as gangsta as a club track can be, the evil twin of Devin’s “See What I Can Pull.” All the way until “Hi Life,” it was a clinic. Every word was clear, even when he sped his flow up faster than we knew he could, faster than I knew anyone could while retaining so much power.
And it came out of nowhere.
To be clear, that’s no insult. But you listen to any previous UGK album and tell me you knew Bun could be that good (and would be that good for the next seven or eight years).
So we’re adding a suddenly emerging super emcee — who happened to be way more grounded and easier to appreciate than most super rappers — to the greatness and genius of Chad L. Butler???
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Oh yeah, I said genius. Folks from the rest of the world often struggle to understand why we love the Pimp so much. Part of it’s that damn personality, so big that it could dominate tracks, even when Bun obliterated him. This was him, a country ass pimp with a big country ass voice, a lot to say, an indifference to what you thought about it, but a need for you to hear it.
The genius was in the vision, though. He knew how to make gangsta rap that wouldn’t become stale. The hedonism was balanced with the real. The trade for all the cash and chicks and cars was a level of paranoia. Paranoid about chicks, cops, homeboys…everybody. Better live it up, because somebody’s gonna take you down. Later in his life, the absence of that balance frustrated Pimp about Southern rap, and it’s clear why on Ridin’ Dirty. After a while, there are no more stories to tell on how good it is to be a gangster. But it’s always compelling hearing what it’s like, the good and the bad juxtaposed matter-of-factly. Those totally separate from such a life can’t help but be intrigued by the idea that this life is just an everyday thing for anyone, whether it’s fun or not.
That balance was sold with sincerity and passion, but also with those damn tracks. If Pimp C isn’t on your list of top producers, I’m OK with that. I’ll just assume you don’t know what you’re talking about. Fuck who’s making hot beats. Who’s putting together great songs? Whose beats were more resonant than Pimp’s? Who in rap understood music theory so well that he could make any of these beats speak to exactly what he was feeling? And how many cats masterminded a series of albums from one group, each with a distinct feel and personality, each of which caught your ear without distracting from the sum of all parts?
And goodness, how many people have tried to hard to replicate this before ultimately giving up?
And yeah, then there’s the voice. I won’t try to describe it because I can’t. He was part playboy, part preacher, but there wasn’t a word Pimp ever spit that wasn’t 100% believable. And unlike cats like Tupac, it was never contradictory because it was never a projection of what he wanted to be. This dude was just like that, for better or worse, making it impossible to take your eyes off him.
Damn, I still miss that dude.
So let’s sum this up. One of the greatest one-man performances in the history of rap, over beats by one of the greatest producers ever, done while they were hitting their creative, commercial and intellectual stride. Ridin’ Dirty was perfectly timed, both in its sound and very existence.
The only thing about the album is that it was so good, so universally appreciated, that it seems to take attention from the rest of the UGK catalog. Don’t let that happen to you. In 2009, 21 years after The Southern Way, UGK 4 Life dropped. That was two years after Pimp died, so his presence on the boards was but so much. And it still killed. It still banged. The Pimp verses still felt contemporary, and Bun was still there to keep it all together.
Know that other group that put out from the ‘80s til damn near 2010? Yeah, neither do I.
Ridin’ Dirty remains the crown jewel, though. And it should.
Tags: Black Music Month, Bomani Jones, Ridin' Dirty, UGK